Moves by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy to replace the defense minister and
chief of staff, as well as grant himself full executive and legislative powers,
could herald more significant changes that might see the Muslim Brotherhood
gaining more power, experts said on Monday.
In a move that shocked Egypt
on Sunday night, Morsy retired two of the country’s top generals and overturned
the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ 2011 Constitutional Declaration as well
as the military’s controversial supplementary constitutional declaration of June
17, which curbed the president’s powers.
Prof. Elie Podeh, of the Islamic
and Middle Eastern Studies department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
said that while Morsy’s move to replace defense minister Field Marshal Mohamed
Hussein Tantawi and army chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Sami Enan was
significant, the changes he has made with regard to his own executive and
legislative powers were equally as important.
Morsy’s new constitutional
declaration not only allows the Egyptian president to issue decrees in the
absence of parliament, but it also makes significant changes to the Constituent
Assembly – the body tasked with drafting Egypt’s new constitution.
night’s declaration abrogates the military’s controversial June 17
Constitutional Addendum, which the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces made
before the presidential runoff elections – and was largely seen as a grab for
SCAF’s addendum greatly reduced the new president’s authority and
stipulated that the military junta retain legislative powers until the election
of a new parliament.
Equally as significant, SCAF’s changes deliberately
granted the military a major role in drafting Egypt’s new
In contrast, Morsy’s new constitutional declaration grants
Egypt’s president complete executive and legislative powers – and also puts the
process of drafting Egypt’s new constitution under his control.
Morsy’s amendment, the president is empowered to draw up a new Constituent
Assembly, which must then draft a constitution within three months. After that,
the constitution must be put to a referendum within 30 days.
constitution is a most important issue for Egypt because it represents the
country’s struggle for its soul and for its national values,” Podeh
Podeh noted that Morsy referred to the constitution as a “national
charter” and said the Constitutional Assembly must represent the “full spectrum
of Egyptian society,” indicating that – for now at least – Morsy is maintaining
his moderate stance.
“Morsy is trying to position himself as a pragmatic
and seemingly moderate leader,” Podeh said. “This is in Egypt’s interests and it
would be foolish for Morsy to act otherwise.
However, at the same time it
does not mean that Morsy does not want Egypt to become more
Morsy’s move to oust the military’s top generals and increase
his presidential powers could well be the start of more significant changes in
the longer term, Podeh said, adding that the struggle between those who desire
an increasingly Islamic Egypt and those who seek a more liberal, Westernized
country has not yet been resolved.
Sunday night’s move saw Tantawi
replaced by Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi as armed forces chief and defense
minister, and Enan replaced by 56- year-old Gen. Sidki Sobhi, who headed the
Third Field Army based in Suez.
Morsy also appointed a judge, Mahmoud
Mekky, as vice president.
Dr. Mark A. Heller, principal research
associate at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, noted that
the question remained whether Morsy’s retirement of Tantawi came as a surprise
to the general or whether he had been aware of the impending move.
say that most of the events [of Sunday] were the result of unpublished
coordination between the Muslim Brotherhood and the army,” Heller
If Tantawi had been aware that Morsy would replace him, Sunday’s
move could represent part of a continual bid by the Muslim Brotherhood to take
power, he said.
If not, then the move suggests that the Brotherhood is
going after the toughest figures first, said Heller, noting that so far there
has been no response from the military leadership about the move.
need to see how things play out, to see whether this political emasculation of
the army is followed by any attempts to deprive the military of their other
benefits, including economic advantages,” Heller said, adding that this could be
the start of a greater bid for power by the Brotherhood, who could seek to
control all of Egypt’s institutions, including the judiciary.
Heller noted that Morsy must also concern himself with Egypt’s economic
problems, and so must tread carefully as far as the United States, foreign
investors and tourists – all of whom are a source of income for Egypt – are
“The Muslim Brotherhood will push as far and as hard as they
think they can get away with, but they will be judged on how well they deal with
Egypt’s crushing material problems,” Heller concluded.